Terrorism Drills Test Emergency Responders in Seattle Area

SEATTLE -- A staged explosion aboard a ferry in Elliott Bay, a mock dirty bomb in Tacoma and other scenarios tested emergency personnel Sunday.

The exercises were part of a $2 million Marine Terrorism Response plan developed over the past two years to help emergency agencies better work together in a multi-attack terrorist disaster.

In May 2003, a bioterrorism drill held in Seattle and overseen by the Department of Homeland Security revealed communications problems and confusion among emergency personnel.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., attended Sunday's ferry drill to promote a bill she co-sponsored seeking $1 billion to improve communications between state and local agencies and Homeland Security.

"Hurricanes Rita and Katrina remind us how critical it is for first responders and other public safety personnel to be able to communicate," Cantwell said.

The drill began with a controlled explosion at 9:06 a.m. on the car deck of the ferry Evergreen State, a mid-sized vessel capable of carrying 1,000 passengers.

There were 70 actors hired to serve as "victims" who suffered burns, broken limbs and other wounds. One woman had a metal bolt embedded in her collarbone, according to a pool reporter from The Seattle Times.

At one point the ferry lost power - simulating an engine problem - and Coast Guard boats and helicopters circled.

After more than 30 minutes, the ferry reached Coleman dock - about a mile away - and firefighters tended to injured passengers.

The drill ran well, officials said, because of a unified command post at the dock that allowed commanders from each rescue division to communicate directly.

"Having every agency at the table allows us to interact very well," Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean said. "Everybody's talking on the same frequency."

The drill was one of four attack scenarios staged simultaneously around the Puget Sound region on Sunday. There also was a mock dirty bomb explosion in Tacoma, a biological agent aboard a cruise ship entering the sound and a boat packed with explosives in Everett.

(c) 2005 Associated Press